Trump turns virus conversation into 'US vs. THEM' debate
President Donald Trump's bid to resume large rallies, despite fears that public health is at risk, is part of a broader reelection campaign to turn the national corona virus debate into a political struggle he calls the "United States against YOU" .
"They hate me. They hate you. They hate rallies and all because they hate the idea of making AMERICA BIG AGAIN!" Trump recently said in a donation email.
Those who raise concerns about the health risks of packing thousands of people for his Saturday rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are trying to "shame" his supporters for events that attract fewer people than the crowd for which protests turned out to be Free after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Trump went so far as to complain in a Wall Street Journal interview this week that some Americans were wearing face coverings, not as a preventative measure but to signal disapproval.
The president seems to expect to spark resentment against "the other" and inspire his base to choose him in November, said Christopher Borick, director of the non-partisan Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
"The framework of us against them - the other - was a perfect rhetorical tool for the President during his tenure and previously as a candidate," said Borick. He cited previous Trump attacks against illegally living in the country and against the "American massacre" in US cities as examples of the division of the language from the President's pulpit. "It is the tried and tested device to which he repeatedly returns."
White House executive advisor Kellyanne Conway revived a controversial 2016 campaign line on Thursday - Democratic Hillary Clinton's dismissive reference to some Trump supporters as a "basket of grievances" - that underlined the Trump team's efforts Make masks a political issue.
"We cannot choose who can be where, whether we wear a mask or not, based on our policies, based on whether some people think that people are impossible to redeem and unfortunate," she told Fox News. "You have the same rights as everyone else to gather peacefully ... according to our constitution."
Republican donor and Trump supporter Dan Eberhart said it was discouraging that the virus had become a “red team versus blue team” problem. But he said Trump has clear eyes that his hopes for re-election will be bad if the economy doesn't "roar" until October. The President's urge to return to normal, including campaigns, reflects this political reality.
However, the reality of the pandemic threat is very different. Epidemiologists are increasingly concerned about spikes in infection, suggesting that the virus is still spreading.
Arizona, Florida, California, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas reported a record rise in coronavirus cases in one day on Thursday. Tulsa County, where Trump will hold its rally in an arena with 19,000 seats, has become the state's leading COVID-19 hotspot. The state recorded 352 more cases on Friday, the second highest daily number during the pandemic.
Administrative officials have repeated the president, denouncing democratic critics and the media as alarming.
White House spokesman Kayleigh McEnany complained that the media had set a double standard. She said there was little concern about the proliferation of COVID-19 when protesters took to the streets to request changes in the police force.
Economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the peaks in some states are "small bumps" and he argued that increasing tests explained the increase in positive cases. Vice President Mike Pence, who took a much more cautious tone at the start of the crisis when Trump opposed public health experts' recommendations, dismissed concerns about a second wave of the virus as "exaggerated."
Nadia Abuelezam, an epidemiologist at Boston College, said she was concerned that rhetoric that made wearing masks a politically charged act could lead to more deaths and infections.
"When it comes to empowering people to protect themselves and others, political inclusion confuses the educational piece at a time when some people may not fully understand why masks work at all," said Abuelezam.
Trump sees a successful message in presenting voters with contrasting images of himself traveling around the country to campaign for a second term, while suspected Democratic candidate Joe Biden stays closer to his home. Trump insists that the virus "fades" and that a vaccine that he predicts will be available by the end of the year may not even be needed.
Eberhart, the GOP donor, said he wished Trump was "a little more careful" and would delay the big stadium rallies a little longer.
"To use a football analogy, Trump is more of a coach trying to win the game than a GM or far-sighted coach looking to next season or his legacy," said Eberhart, CEO of Canary, one of the national players largest private oil field service providers. "Trump is really worried about the news cycle and the next news cycle, and he's worried about his reelection. But I don't think his legacy or what the history books will say gets into his cortex."
Trump's rally also violates the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which initially host large indoor gatherings.
Trump supporters say the campaign will carry out temperature controls on rally drivers and supply hand disinfectants. Face coverings are distributed, but people don't have to wear them. CDC guidelines require the use of masks in areas where individuals cannot maintain social distance.
The story has been corrected to reflect that the last name of the public opinion expert is Borick, not Borrick.
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